BERLIN - The Board of Education is looking to host a forum on school safety and protocol in response to the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni told The Herald Thursday that the forum would address what the schools have in place as security measures, what is scheduled to be done and what the community would like to see the schools add or improve.
“We’d like to hear from the community,” said Benigni.
Benigni said a new protocol on how to gain access to a school building has already been implemented.
“Anyone who’s not a town employee that has a badge, will have to present their license and it will be held at the front until they exit the building,” said Benigni.
Systems that can scan the license and do some form of background check are being explored, he said.
“The point of the license is if someone was in the building and something happened, we have an immediate address and ID of that person,” said Benigni. “So if we needed to get information to the police we’d have that right away.”
The schools are also in the early stages of installing security vestibules at the middle school and elementary schools similar to what is in place at the high school. The high school has a large room at the main entrance that people entering the building must walk through, with a visitor check-in area, before entering the rest of the school.
The idea is if a shooter or someone suspicious entered the school they could lock the vestibule area and trap them in, allowing for a greater response time, school and town officials have discussed.
That project would be funded through a combination of grant and town funds, as other projects, like the installation of security cameras, are also being implemented with town funds, Benigni said.
The council agreed to work with the school board on the forum at its last meeting Tuesday, during which Police Chief John Klett gave an update on how his department handles active shooter situations.
“We try to get as much training here as possible, and we try to get into the schools as often as we can,” said Klett.
All officers are trained in active shooter response situations and every year they train at schools in the district, Klett said. The department also is fully equipped with rifles, ballistic helmets and body armor, and supervising vehicles have entry tools to enter a building if forced entry is needed, Klett added.
The department trains regionally with neighboring departments and has access to their officers - as well as state police - if needed, he added.
Police have a “multi-faceted” response plan at each of the schools involving police, fire, ambulance and communication through a nearly complete upgraded dispatch center to communicate regionally and locally. Police also have floor plans of all the schools, Klett said.
An officer is part of a school safety committee for each school - implemented by state statute in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, Klett said. Officers assist with school lockdown drills at the schools and inspect the schools biannually, he added.
The town also has a communication system that will notify residents of emergency response situations if they sign up for it, or can send out messages to targeted blocks of the town via a land line.
After Klett’s presentation, Councilor Alex Giannone, a state police officer, said he was looking forward to the forum as a way to discuss staffing officers at the schools.
That could be through funds for another SRO officer or following a state statute that allows retired police officers, hired by the schools, to be armed in the schools as security guards. The latter would be more affordable, he said.
“Who better, than to be someone acquainted with the town?” said Giannone
Klett and Mayor Mark Kaczynski agreed with the retired officer idea, saying someone who is armed at the schools is more effective to respond to a shooter situation than someone who is unarmed.
“Don’t think that decision to pull that SRO was taken lightly,” said Klett of a move to pull the school resource officer out of McGee Middle School in January due to staff shortages within the police department. The intention is to re-implement the SRO and officers still visit the schools twice a day, at random points, he added. The SRO at the high school is still there full-time, he said.
On the topic of teachers being armed as a way to protect students in such situations, Kaczynski said he was unsure if that was a good idea or bad idea at the moment. He said there are ways to make schools safe, but they shouldn’t be run like prisons, or built as just a solid brick building.
Deputy Chief Chris Ciuci told The Herald he and the chief are in favor of any measure to make the schools safer, but didn’t want to answer questions on whether teachers should be armed. Benigni did not return a request for comment on the matter.
While the forum will be informational for the public, town officials said specific operational or infrastructure plans may not be discussed in too much detail, so as to not reveal them to potential perpetrators.
“If you talk to any security consultant, they’ll tell you, the number one thing you have going for you, regardless of what you implement, is the bad guys don’t know what you have,” said corporation counsel Jeffrey Donofrio last week, while supporting the general conversation of the forum.
The date of the forum is still being worked out, but expected to be held soon, Kaczynski said.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.